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Thanks to the Geek Easy, A Comic Shop reinvents itself as a coed lounge

Inside the newest hotspot for geeks and girls alike

Photo: Photo by Aldrin Capulong, License: N/A, Created: 2011:03:11 13:18:30

Photo by Aldrin Capulong

Guys like us: Jason Blanchard, co-owner of A Comic Shop, doesn't think comic book lovers need to be loners

We've all seen the stereotype: The snobby, rotund loner Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons who has to wear prescription pants and has remnants of SweetTarts in his beard; the hyper-imaginative comic shop workers, the Frog Brothers in The Lost Boys, who read more books than they sell; even Kevin Smith, who grew up in the '80s and is the patron saint of fanboys, welcomes visitors to his online comic shop, Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, with the pronouncement, "Finally - a geek-free comic book outlet! A place you can shop and not hang your head in shame!"

Face it: Comic shops still have an image problem. They're typically viewed as dark, dank havens for unkempt 40-year-old virgins, their owners not so much entrepreneurs as man-children trying desperately to avoid getting a real job.

Judging from the outside, Winter Park's longtime geek magnet, A Comic Shop, is no different. On a sweltering Saturday in February, two brave men wearing green-and-red superhero costumes stand in front of the building on Semoran Boulevard holding signs that read "Comics rock!" Inside, the long, narrow main room features intimidating towers of comic books and graphic novels lining the walls. The faces at the register are friendly enough, but for a newbie - a female newbie, at that - the feeling is akin to what one might feel walking through the Congressional film vault and asking, "So what's good?"

That's the feeling, though, that A Comic Shop and its co-owners, Jason Blanchard and Aaron Haaland, are trying to change. The store, which has won this paper's Best Of Orlando reader's poll for best comic book store for four consecutive years since it opened in 2006, has had moderate success and gained fairly widespread recognition thanks to its customer-friendly, non-commercial approach. But it wasn't until late last year, when Haaland and Blanchard discovered that the business adjacent to the shop was going under, that the possibilities for what the store could be were blown wide open.

"We're a small business, and I'd always say, ‘Don't support chain stores. Support small businesses. Big businesses just take all of your money,'" Haaland says. "But I started to feel like if I really wanted to champion small businesses, I should be doing things to support that. [Small businesses] should take more chances, be more authentic, more flexible, make themselves worthy of support." Haaland began toying with the "third place" concept, to make A Comic Shop a space to hang out between work and home, not just to shop in.

"We wanted to build a community for comic books," Haaland says. "I wanted to have a comic convention every day, a community where people that have shared interests can share those interests together."

So A Comic Shop introduced The Geek Easy, an expanded hang-out area in the space where the neighboring business once was, that serves as a safe room where comic lovers can let their fanboy flags fly freely. Inside, characters from the Mario Bros. video games are painted on the light blue walls. Open since fall 2010, the Geek Easy is a bring-your-own-beer lounge that hosts gamers, comic fans and movie lovers, and regular events like "Dungeons and Doritos" and "Geekgasms," "Comic Art Jams" and "Drink and Draw." One of its newest developments may be the one most antithetical to the comic-shop stereotype: the Fangirls club.

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